The shelves of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library (H-L Library) became the targets of pointed religious propaganda when Christian tracts were discovered inside several books concerning Islamic and Jewish Studies.
The tracts have appeared several times before, most recently in 2007, when a local resident was found inserting them in books.
The tracts were brought to the attention of the library staff on Sunday evening by an upset student who found one in a book relating to Islamic studies.
The staff proceeded to search the Islamic and Judaic studies section and found tracts in books relating to the Holocaust, Islam and inside a copy of the Qur'an.
Tommy Cabrera '12 was the student librarian on duty when the tracts were first discovered and was asked by library staff to remove the tracts.
"I spent an hour taking out about 40 pamphlets until my shift was over and if I had kept going, I know I would have found more" said Cabrera. "What really bothered me was the way it was set up. They were hidden in random pages and definitely targeted toward the person who was going to read that book. It was a personal sort of attack."
Librarian Sherrie Bergman spoke about the recently found tracts and the library's effort to uphold the code of ethics adhered to by H-L Library and the College at large.
"The library resources we provide are the bedrock of the intellectual freedom this campus enjoys," said Bergman. "Central to that is that this information is presented without bias."
H-L Library dealt with an almost identical situation in 2005 when it was discovered that Ryan Helminiak '05 had placed over 1,000 Christian tracts in books in the library.
Bergman is confident that none of the recently found tracts are left over from 2005, as the librarians were careful to remove them.
While the library staff said they do not know who placed the tracts in the books, they do know where the tracts came from.
"There is an organization that publishes these called the Tract League," said Bergman. "They are based in Michigan and their name is on these tracts."
The Tract League's website lists over 40 different topics on which they publish tracts, and a "How-To Use" guide that instructs users to "enclose a tract in every piece of mail you send out," and to leave tracts "on a gasoline pump, in a waiting room, in a Thanksgiving basket or a grocery cart."
Bowdoin librarians regularly check controversial books for tracts of any kind.
"We are open to the public and anyone may come and sit and read a book and ask a librarian for help with research assistance," said Bergman.
"I find it very sad that individuals are proselytizing and that it is misunderstood that libraries will support to the last degree access to information about any religious group. We're here to provide information on all religions without bias," she said.
Hawthorne-Longfellow Library staff follows the American Library Association code of ethics as well as a set of core values specific to the Bowdoin community, both of which cite the right to freely pursue unbiased and multicultural information.
In addition, the Bowdoin College Handbook expressly states that "no outside organization may proselytize or sell products without direct sponsorship of a student organization recognized by the Bowdoin Student Government or an administrative office."
In the past, tracts have been placed inside books that deal with issues other than religious denomination.
"We have found these tracts in books on abortion and on gay and lesbian rights and some of those were particularly hurtful and offensive because the tracts specifically targeted those groups," said Bergman. "We have had many people come to the front desk very upset by these tracts and we spend a lot of time and money on collecting and disposing of them."
Soon after the tracts were found, H-L Library staff released a two-year strategic plan.
The plan lists adherence to "the individual right to intellectual pursuit, free from censorship or violation of privacy" as well as "treating our colleagues and patrons with dignity, honesty, good humor and a respect for social and cultural diversity."
Bergman called this freedom from censorship the most important aspect of a liberal arts education.
"We should never say we're not going to purchase books on Buddhism because we don't think Buddhism is a valid religion," said Bergman.
"The library should challenge censorship and we certainly view these [tracts] as being a type of interference," she said.
Bergman noted that the timing of this interference coincides with major religious celebrations and national controversy.
"The timing of these tracts coincides with the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holiday, the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah and the controversy over September 11," said Bergman, referring to the recent debate over the construction of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero. "It's not surprising that these tracts showed up now."